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Nurturing the next generation of scientists in rural New York

Keeping kids in Schenectady engaged when school lets out for the summer.

Developing a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-educated workforce is a national priority, according to the United States Government. Currently, there are not enough US students graduating with the degrees and skills in this area to meet the demands of the 21st century job market. While many STEM programs target high school and college students, the path toward a STEM career often begins with a love of science nurtured at a young age.

But when school lets out for the summer, it means a break in structured learning for many children and families in rural New York – not to mention a break in crucial social skills like team-building, brainstorming, and critical thinking. Thanks to the GSK Science in the Summer program and the Schenectady Museum Association, children have a chance to keep these skills fresh.

“Watching the children’s thought processes develop over the course of the session was fascinating,” said Susanne Doerr, of the Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady. “On the first day of the program, we asked the group, ‘What is a scientist?’ After brainstorming, they responded, ‘scientists do experiments’ and ‘scientists make things.’ When we asked the question on the second day, they were able to add descriptions including ‘hard worker,’ ‘thinker’ and ‘someone who makes the world better’.”

At the end of the program, the students gathered in the driveway to share what they learned with each other, and with other children who were nearby. A child asked one of our students what she liked best about the program, and the little girl answered, “My favorite part was everything!”. For Susanne, this is how she images the next generation of scientists will be formed: through enthusiasm spreading from child to child with the support of programs like GSK Science in the Summer.

The GSK Science in the Summer program, which is in its 31st year of operation, now reaches more than 25,000 kids across the country per year, and has nearly 200,000 alumni to date. The 2017 program focused on the Science of Sports – allowing kids to explore how their favorite sporting activities link to STEM.

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